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Daschle may force homeland security chief to testify

From Jonathan Karl and Dana Bash

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Moving toward a possible constitutional showdown with the White House, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle expressed exasperation at Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge's refusal to testify before Congress and said he is considering steps, including a subpoena, to force Ridge to appear.

"We aren't comfortable coercing somebody to speak," Daschle said Wednesday. "But when you have somebody this important and when you have the issue as critical as it is for all of this country at stake, there shouldn't be any question about his willingness to come before the committees."

Daschle, D-South Dakota, was critical of a recent snafu involving student visa approvals for two of the September 11 hijackers. The Immigration and Naturalization Service on Monday notified a Florida flight school attended by the hijackers that their student visas had been approved -- exactly six months after the terrorist attacks.

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"I am absolutely shocked to read in the paper this morning the terrorists just got their visas yesterday. I, for the life of me, can't understand how something like that can happen," Daschle said.

"It's a major embarrassment, and it's a recognition that we still have a lot of work to do."

Daschle said Ridge must come before Congress to answer questions about the visa incident and about why he opposed a Democratic proposal in December that would have included $25 million to reform the INS student visa program.

Ridge has been asked to testify before the Senate Appropriations and Finance committees. He has refused, saying it would be inappropriate to appear before Congress because he is an adviser to the president, not a Cabinet secretary.

White House advisers, such as the chief of staff and national security adviser, generally do not testify before Congress.

Asked about Ridge's job performance, Daschle said, "I don't know if anybody can say with any real confidence how good a job he's doing or the office is doing because we have such little information."




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